Colorado Coach Rick Neuheisel calls the Wonderlic Personnel Test “the SAT of the NFL.”
Like the Scholastic Assessment Test, which the NCAA uses to help determine freshman eligibility, the Wonderlic has been criticized for failing to accurately measure learning ability.
College entrance exams have been accused of cultural bias against minorities and women and thus misleading in predicting academic success.
Reacting to similar challenges to the Wonderlic, testers have acknowledged that blacks and whites should be scored differently to determine the same predictions of job performance.
According to data supplied by the testers, the median score in 1992 for all those between ages 16 and 72 was 21.58 out of 50. Whites’ median was 22.76, African Americans’ 16.20 and Hispanics’ 17.26.
“The Wonderlic test has been rejected by the courts perhaps more than any other test as not being job related,” said Richard Seymour of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a Washington-based advocacy group.
The NFL uses the test as one component in its physical and mental evaluation of potential players for its annual draft.
Seymour said if the NFL wants to measure cognitive skills, it should give athletes a playbook and quiz them.
“But the idea that you can get a useful prediction of ability to learn plays by testing people on vocabulary, on complex sentence construction, it’s not the real world,” he said.
Bob Schaffer of Fair Test, a Massachusetts-based organization that lobbies against standardized testing, said there is no evidence that athletes who score well on the Wonderlic will question authority, a common theory among football officials.
“Something like they are too smart for their own good?” Schaffer asked. “That they wouldn’t take orders from Napoleonic coaches? This sounds like pop psychology.”
Larry Jacobs, president of Pro Sports Management in Jacksonville, Fla., like many other agents, accepts the Wonderlic as part of the game.
He likened the test to the Legal Scholastic Assessment Test for potential law students. It is simply one hurdle on the road to a professional career.
“If any young man is thinking about playing professional football, he should prepare himself for whatever it takes to succeed,” Jacobs said.